Thai Red Curry and Sea Salt Roasted Chestnuts

I've discovered that chestnuts are an ancestral type of food. Why is that? Because our ancestors wrote and sang songs about them.

Ha! Get it? I'm hilarious.

I originally intended to post this recipe before Thanksgiving, so you all could have it to serve to your families for Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner or perhaps both, but then the holiday travel season got the best of me. Oh no, don't get me wrong, I made these chestnuts before Thanksgiving, took all the photos, and then.... well, I decided to go to Crossfit and take a really long hot shower and straighten my hair the night I was supposed to write this blog post. Sorry, friends....but at least you'll be getting this one in adequate time for winter holiday cooking. Maybe. If you're like me and leave cooking up to the last minute. #procrastinationforever

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While developing this recipe, I realized that most people had never eaten chestnuts. When I was looking for them in several grocery stores, one person even asked "what are you going to do with chestnuts?", to which I wanted to reply "roast them on an open fire with Jack Frost nipping at my nose", but that seemed a tad bit too snarky to a complete stranger. So I very nicely replied "roast them and eat them!". I thought that answer was obvious, but this stranger had a perplexed look on his face as in he never really thought to eat chestnuts.

I also realized that there are actually specialty tools for roasting chestnuts. Serious. There are chestnut knives and chestnut pans and chestnut....hair dye? Ok, maybe the hair dye isn't so much for eating, but I've discovered that chestnuts are actually the color and vibrancy of Kate Middleton's coveted hair. (See, she knows.)

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I don't eat chestnuts often: they're a lot of work to peel and can be pricey. I was only able to find chestnuts near me at an organic specialty market for $10/pound, and after doing some research online, that seems to be the status quo for organic pricing; I unfortunately couldn't find any price point data for any "big box" grocery stores.

Despite the price, I really think that everyone should try roasting their own chestnuts at least once. They're incredibly festive and taste wonderfully warm and nutty just out of the pan. The roasting is quite easy, but the hard part comes with having the patience to diligently cut the chestnuts open before roasting, and then to peel back the hot, but still firm, shell to try to get the nut out whole. I like chestnuts plain with a little salt, but I also like them with a little spice, which is the recipe I've provided for you below.

When I first set out to try to roast these chestnuts, I decided that I was going to invent a new way to roast them.... and I quickly failed. I knew that if you did not cut open the shells of chestnuts before, they were likely to explode. I decided that I was going to do an experiment to see how long it took a chestnut to explode and at what temperature, so I threw one in the oven to test. It was going to be my own foodie version of Myth Busters, but then I got scared and removed it before it was even in the oven for a full 5 minutes. Whomp whomp. Next, I decided to roast them in olive oil on the stove top, but that produced so much smoke that I immediately had to open all the windows and doors to air things out before I got a surprised visit from the fire department. After that, I decided that perhaps I could actually roast them in the fire in my fireplace, but after doing some research, I realized there was a high probability of losing both my pan and the chestnuts at the same time. Take it my advice: roasting in the oven is the easiest, safest way.

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This recipe uses a red Thai curry seasoning, which I found at a specialty spice shop, but you could easily create your own blend, or use whatever curry you had on hand. I think that the spice and flavor or the curry combined with a little sea salt against the warm, nutty flavor of the chestnut is a real winner; it is almost like Asian spiced peanuts, but of course, a bit more festive for this holiday season.


Thai Red Curry and Sea Salt Roasted Chestnuts

  • 1 lb. whole chestnuts
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. Thai red curry blend*
  • 1 tsp. coarse sea salt
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. While oven is preheating, take a very sharp knife and very carefully slice an X in each chestnut shell, being careful not to puncture the actual nut. If you cut the nut inside the shell, the chestnut will crumble as you try to peel it from its shell after roasting. Cutting an X allows the heat to escape and ensures that you do not have little chestnut-bombs going off in your oven. Cutting these Xs can be difficult since the chestnut shell is extremely hard, but I found that the easiest way is finding the flattest side of the chestnut and then cutting one diagonal line downward and away from you, and then rotating the chestnut again to ensure that you never cut upward. (Which is a recipe for disaster when you are handling a sharp knife.)
  3. In a large cast iron pan or baking sheet, place each chestnut X side up, making sure that each chestnut has a little space to itself.
  4. Place the chestnuts in the oven, and let roast for 15 minutes.
  5. After 15 minutes, remove the chestnuts from the oven, and let cool until they can be handled without burning your fingers, but not completely cool. They should still be warm.
  6. Peel the chestnuts from their shell by firmly tugging back on the corners of the Xs , which should have opened slightly during roasting.
  7. Discard the chestnut shells and place the nuts in a medium sized bowl.
  8. After all nuts have been shelled and are in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and gently stir to coat.
  9. Add salt and curry, gently toss until chestnuts are evenly coated with spices.
  10. Serve immediately.

*The Thai red curry blend I used contained black pepper, paprika, cumin, onion, garlic, coriander, lemongrass, cilantro, chili flakes, and ginger.




The meaning behind South of Vanilla and an easy Thanksgiving Recipe You Won't Be able to Resist

Over the years, I’ve gotten several questions of where and how I learned how to cook, and the answers usually tend to surprise people.

First, my mom is a terrible cook. I mean that in the nicest way possible, and she is the first to admit it, which is why I don’t feel quite so bad announcing this statement to the general public. She just really is. She never liked cooking, and she never found joy in it the way so many others do. Now, there are a few dishes that she gets right, mainly the one I am sharing with you today, but for the most part, cooking just isn’t her thing.

What my mom is fantastic at, however, is baking. I learned how to bake from her, and I grew up alongside her on weekends baking everything from chocolate chip cookies to blueberry muffins to marshmallow-topped brownies. We baked so much that baking for me became natural, and by the time I was 10, I didn’t need to measure ingredients. I could eyeball the difference between a tablespoon and a teaspoon, a half-cup and a quarter cup. I knew when something was done baking, not by the timer, but by the type of smell coming from the oven. My mom used, without fail, more vanilla than what any recipe called for, and we went through bottles of vanilla so rapidly, that we often bought 3 bottles at a time from the grocery store. Vanilla was such an important part of my memories from learning to bake, that it became rooted in the title of the blog: South of Vanilla.

In a stark contrast, my dad was an incredible cook. I learned how to cook both through my paternal grandmother and my dad. My dad grew up with his mom in the kitchen, which is how he learned many of the things he knows today. To this day, my Grandma, who has sadly now passed, and my dad are two of the best cooks I know; the two of them have prepared some of the best meals I have ever had, which says quite a lot considering my extensive traveling and my healthy appetite for frequenting restaurants. My Grandmother grew up in the south, and her cooking reflected that sweet southern charm. She made grits like no one else I knew, and her meals were exquisite works of art that took hours to prepare. She wasn’t afraid of butter, and it was through her that I learned that a properly placed tablespoon of bacon fat could transform a whole dish. During my visits with her in Georgia, I would often watch her cook and try to figure out what the magic was behind her meals. A whole lot of it was love, but she was truly a very talented cook that took great joy and serenity through those hours in the kitchen. I would like to say that I get that same peace through her.  I credit my love and ability to cook to my dad and grandma: their southern style of cooking influenced the first part of my blog title: South of Vanilla.

In wasn’t until college when I realized that all of those hours spent watching my dad and my grandma in the kitchen had somehow, by osmosis perhaps, stuck with me. In high school I habitually burned anything from toast to mac and cheese, but I like to think that I just never really cared that much, as is the story with so many teenagers. There was a moment, while in college at Iowa, where my roommate was sick, so I made her homemade chicken and rice soup with homemade chicken stock. I had saved the carcass and bones from a chicken, and when asked how I did this, how I knew to do this, and which recipe I followed, I realized that my answer of “I don’t know, I just knew”, was atypical; most young adults away from home for the first time know nothing about cooking from scratch.

My mom, however, was able to cook several dishes extraordinarily well. This recipe that I share with you now is a twist on her original recipe: I’ve modified it to make it paleo, and have also added star anise, which I think is a nice seasonal flavor that is widely underutilized. I hope you make this recipe with love, and think of my family while you serve it to yours on this Thanksgiving.


Paleo Lemon-Anise Cranberry Sauce

Makes about 1 1/2 cups sauce

  • ¾ cup freshly pressed orange juice
  • 12 oz. fresh cranberries
  • ¼ cup raw honey
  • Zest from 1 large lemon
  • 3-4 star anises
  • 1/3 cup water
  1. In a large pan, combine orange juice, cranberries, honey, lemon zest, and star anise. Turn on high heat until mixture is slightly bubbling, then after 4 minutes while stirring frequently, reduce to low heat and let simmer.
  2. Let mixture simmer for about 30 minutes longer, stirring occasionally, and watching to ensure that cranberry sauce does not burn or stick to the bottom of the pan.
  3. When most of the thin liquid is no longer visible in the cranberry sauce, when the sauce is thick (after about 30 minutes), add water and stir.
  4. Continue to simmer for about 20 more minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and let cool. Sauce will jelly as it cools.
  6. Remove all star anise from sauce before serving.
  7. Serve or store in an airtight container int he fridge.